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State Gets Approval For First Stage Of Smallpox Vaccination Plan

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina has received permission fromthe federal government to immunize 7,500 key public health workersagainst smallpox, state health officials said Friday.

Officials of local health departments and about 60 hospitalswill determine who receives the vaccines, said State HealthDirector Leah Devlin. Those who will be considered work in publichealth, hospitals and emergency response, Devlin said.

The ones chosen will be those most likely to come into contactwith the smallpox virus if there's a suspected or confirmed case.

"Smallpox is one of the deadliest potential agents ofbioterrorism," Devlin said. "We have a deadly disease. We have avaccination."

Immunization will begin by the end of the month and continuethrough March, said Devlin, who said she is among those who willreceive the vaccine. The state will send out teams to give thevaccines, she said.

Mandatory vaccinations for U.S. military personnel, expected tototal about half a million, began last month.

The vaccine is administered with a small needle that pricks theskin, usually in a circular pattern on the shoulder. Theimmunization usually leaves a small scar.

The state has asked for 280,000 doses of the vaccine for thesecond stage of vaccination plan, but has not received word fromthe federal government about how many doses it will receive, Devlinsaid.

During that stage, which is expected to begin within a fewmonths, law enforcement officials, firefighters, emergency medicalresponders and others will be given the vaccine.

Participation in the program is voluntary.

Carolinas HealthCare System and Presbyterian Healthcare,hospital systems in Charlotte, have said they won't vaccinate theiremployees.

They are among a small but growing number of U.S. hospitalsconcluding that health risks and financial problems posed by givingthe vaccine outweigh the threat of smallpox.

Two large unions representing a total of 1.1 million medicalworkers have also argued that there are not enough safeguards inplace to make sure people at higher risk of injury are notvaccinated. They complained there is nothing in place to adequatelycompensate people who are hurt by the vaccine.